By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
Gov. Robert Bentley’s State of the State address Tuesday night was “encouraging.” (Meh!) The governor covered a lot of ground. He has to. It’s a long speech.
Among the most encouraging proposals Bentley put forward was comprehensive prison reform: Getting rid of Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and other decrepit prisons, and building modern, state-of-the-art prisons to replace them. That should keep the federal government from coming into Alabama and seizing our Corrections Department for the horrible conditions in which we force our inmates to live.
We don’t really care about how we warehouse convicts, but Bentley at least realizes that if we don’t address the problem, the problem will address us.
Bentley covered other areas, too: Transportation (this means more highways in Alabama, not transportation), education (free community college for good students and a pre-K program expanded for all – like Bernie, right?), getting health care professionals into rural areas, expanding broadband Internet throughout the state, a nice beach resort in Gulf Shores (a suntan in every pot).
I guess I’m a “glass-half-empty” kind of guy. The optimist looks at a glass half full. For the pessimist, the glass is half empty. After Bentley’s speech, I’m seeing the glass half empty.
Yes, Bentley’s “Great State 2019” plan is better than what we’ve got. Better than what we can expect our Legislature to enact. Kudos to the governor for that.
What’s missing – and what’s included – is the disappointment.
Surely, what Bentley wants to accomplish by 2019 is laudable — if mediocre is the goal. But that’s what Alabama’s leaders have always strived for: Mediocre, at best.
Some observers say that “good” is the biggest danger to “greatness.” In Alabama, it seems, “mediocre” is about all the “good” we can do.
Maybe I’m a “the-glass-is-three-quarters-empty” kind of guy.
What I heard in Bentley’s speech was the typical bashing of President Barack Obama. Hey, if Sen. Richard Shelby can construct an entire re-election campaign on attacking a president who won’t even be in office when he’s re-elected, why can’t Bentley grab onto those coattails?
What I heard was Bentley bragging about Alabama’s job growth (nothing to brag about) and industrial recruitment. You know, even a blind squirrel will find an acorn every now and then. Even a blind pig can dig up a truffle. Even a bad journalist can use blind squirrel and blind pig metaphors for a column.
What I heard was Bentley pressing the hot buttons of gun rights and xenophobic immigration and refugee resettlement, issues that have riled voters time and again. And advance nothing.
What I didn’t hear was a plan from Bentley to expand Medicaid, a truly solid economic development strategy that would not only give the state billions of dollars in federal support, but also help poor working citizens get the health care they deserve and don’t have because our physician-governor and Legislature dislike Obama so much.
Dr. Gov. Bentley’s health care solution is to put doctors in rural counties. That, friends, is badly needed, and Bentley is right to go there. But it’s been tried before, and unless there are the right incentives for doctors to dedicate their careers to rural medicine, it won’t happen – no matter how much Bentley or anybody else wishes it would.
A Medicaid expansion would certainly encourage more physicians to work in the backwaters of Alabama. Without a Medicaid expansion, forget it, and Bentley didn’t propose that. Because he dislikes Obama. Because Bentley disliking Obama is a winner in Alabama. Obama is not his brother.
Oh, Bentley and Alabama are first in line when we need federal help for a disaster. Shelby, too, as demonstrated when Alabama was devastated by the tornadoes of 2011. He didn’t stand up every day to Obama then. We’re right there when we need highway money (roads, remember?). We’re right there when we want Shelby, et al, to find federal funds for our universities, our military bases, and other programs.
We just don’t want to admit it. We can’t admit it. Indeed, as we’re taking the money from the feds with our right hand, we’re slapping Obama and the federal government upside the head with our left hand. We’ll take the money, but we’ll act like we’re not.
Maybe I’m not a “glass two-thirds empty” kind of guy. Maybe I’m just an “empty-glass-altogether” dude.
By national standards, Bentley’s “Great State 2019” program is meek. By Alabama standards, perhaps robust. But remember, we’re near last in most every quality-of-life standard. We strive to be 47th, not first. And we’re happy with that. And that’s sad.
What Bentley has proposed is dynamic. For Alabama. For most anywhere else: Meh.
The glass, friends, is absolutely empty. And, maybe, broken.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every Wednesday for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]